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Russian President Planning Pilgrimage to Holy Sites

MOSCOW — The agenda for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s historic visit to Israel is undoubtedly full, and the reasons for the visit are quite numerous, but analysts say that a largely overlooked factor may be Putin’s own religious views.

Official sources in Russia indicated that the visit was meant to show that relations between Moscow and Jerusalem remain stable despite recent arms sales and high-profile cases of Russian antisemitism.

Putin held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon on issues affecting the Middle East peace process, including cooperation between Moscow and Jerusalem on anti-terror and security issues, Russian participation in Iran’s nuclear program and Russia’s recently announced arms sales to Syria. But a leading analyst noted that the visit took place on the eve of the Russian Orthodox Easter, which falls on May 1 this year.

Putin is believed to be a devout Orthodox Christian, and he has made several pilgrimages to Christian holy sites in Russia. According to some, the real purpose of Putin’s Israel visit was to make a pilgrimage to holy sites on the eve of Easter, a venerable Eastern Orthodox tradition, according to Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Institute for Israel and Near Eastern Studies, a Moscow think tank.

“Putin is going to pray at some of the holiest sites for Russian Christians, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem,” Satanovsky said on the eve of the visit. “He has a team that goes with him who will be dealing with the issues of Syria and Iran, but his personal interest is different.”

Putin’s trip came at the invitation of Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who met him in Poland in January while marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Katsav is expected to visit Moscow on May 9, along with other world leaders honoring Russia’s role in the victory over Nazism.

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